BEDFORD – A former hospice nurse was charged in federal court in Boston on Wednesday on a criminal complaint of diverting morphine meant for patients while working at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus in Bedford.

Kathleen Noftle of Tewksbury, 55, was arrested and charged with one count of obtaining a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, deception, and subterfuge, and one count of tampering with a consumer product. If convicted, Noftle could face a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.

According to official documents, prosecutors allege Noftle obtained doses of morphine intended for patients under her care at the unit in January of 2017. After an investigation, Noftle admitted to federal agents that she diluted a portion of the liquid doses with water from a sink to be administered to patients orally. Noftle further indicated she ingested the remaining portions. One patient experienced difficulty breathing and increased suffering in the unit as a result of the diluted mixture, the report alleges.

The report further indicates that prior to working at the VA Medical Center, Noftle resigned from her position as a nurse at Tewksbury Hospital following failure to follow protocol when dispensing narcotics on 60 separate occasions. Noftle opted to resign rather than submit to a formal investigation.

“These allegations run completely counter to VA's values,” said Bedford VA Medical Center director Joan Clifford in a statement to WFXT. “That's why we terminated this individual and reported her behavior to VA's independent inspector general.”

According to the criminal complaint, Noftle acknowledged that she planted liquid morphine in her co-worker’s medication cart to divert attention from herself. After questioning by agents from the VA’s Office of Inspector General, Noftle admitted to addiction problems and began diverting drugs from the VAMC approximately two months prior.

“I am responsible for putting diluted medication in the caps into the medcart,” she admitted to her Nurse Manager in an email. “The 3rd day I placed one in another cart to try to get the focus off myself. I am sorry about this. I am a better person than the behavior I displayed leads you to believe.”

A probable cause hearing for Noftle has been scheduled for October 16th.

Image via Flickr / John Campbell